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Archive for the ‘Thanksgiving’ Category

We had quite a nice Thanksgiving. Mom worked herself to the nub preparing everything – another year, another marathon, another successful meal! At 77, she’s absolutely amazing.

And it was all wonderful, as usual. The entire Hooligan clan and my brother joined the feast. The only ripple was S.Hooligan acting out in her signature way. First she insisted one of her stuffed animals was going to sit with me on my chair at the dinner table. When I said NO, she started moving her stuff to her daddy’s place. Naturally he kicked her out of his chair, and I added insult to injury by getting my brother to tell S. to behave. She left the room (concealing her tears as she usually does) and went into the bathroom. I gave her some time to settle down and then peeked in on her. It appeared she was sucking her thumb and staring at herself in the mirror. She shoved me out and shut the door.

A few minutes later her father went to the bathroom to talk to her. She didn’t accompany him back, but slunk into the kitchen once he was seated and crawled under the table for a bit. Meanwhile, J.Hooligan had been stuffing himself with turkey and cranberry sauce. He left the table in a bloated state, and S. rose up to take over his seat (which was completely on the other side of the table from me). After a buttered roll or two, she perked up and was soon back to her old self.

S.Hooligan’s new development this year is that she had pumpkin pie in her kindergarten class and loved it. She was excited that Grandma would have pumpkin pie as well; and when Diamondqueen received delivery of two Busken pies she’d ordered through a charity fundraiser, S. consumed two pieces of the pumpkin herself.

Mom suspected if S. liked commercial pie she probably wouldn’t like Grandma’s homemade version. S. kept eyeing those pies, and once everyone had finished dinner, Grandma presented her with a slice. Mom, Diamondqueen, my brother and I were chatting as S. dipped into her pie, but I was watching her out of the corner of my eye. S. actually tried a second bite, then I watched her whisper in her mother’s ear, and I could just about hear what she said: “Grandma’s pie doesn’t taste good!” Diamondqueen shushed her, and S. went on her way to spread chaos to J. and That Poor Man in the living room.

Later I heard S.Hooligan’s whispered critique in its entirety: “Grandma’s pie doesn’t taste good! I’m going home to eat my OWN pie.” I related this to Grandma, and she just laughed. After all, she’d called S.Hooligan’s reaction from the start.

Fortunately, I LOVE Mom’s pumpkin pie, and there’s plenty left. In fact, all this talking of pie has made me hungry…

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I don’t know why certain days become etched in memory, days with nothing really spectacular or eventful about them. I’ve always thought fondly of a Saturday before Thanksgiving in the early 60s. I don’t know where my father was – maybe that’s why we had fun that day. Mom needed some Gurley figurine candles for Christmas gifts she was making that year, so we drove up to the old Kenwood Plaza to a dime store there, a rare outing. I don’t know what made that dime store more special than the Woolworth’s down at Hyde Park Plaza, but it was a trip Mom seemed intent on making.

There was no I71 in those days, so we had to take back roads from Oakley to Kenwood, back roads that were wooded and made me hum “Over the River and Through the Woods” to myself. I think there might have even been snow flurries that day.

At the Kenwood dime store Mom bought her Santa and angel candles, and maybe some boy and girl pilgrim ones as well. When we returned home, Mom put our Perry Como Christmas album on the stereo. This was before radio stations played Christmas music before Thanksgiving. In fact, it was impossible to hear Christmas music before  late in December, so it was a special treat to have Mr. Como singing “There’s No Place Like Home for the Holidays” that cozy Saturday. I think Mom started working on her Christmas projects as soon as we got home, so there was a delicious atmosphere of preparation. I don’t remember doing anything myself, but the mood and warmth of that day are still with me all these years later.

That was all – a simple shopping trip, a classic November day, and Perry Como. And my mother, and our home, and no conflict, just rich contentment. Every year I must listen to Como’s “There’s No Place Like Home for the Holidays” before Thanksgiving and relive how wonderful that day felt.

 

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I always think of autumn as three different stages of a season. September is summer grafted to fall, with traces of summer amid the harvest and trees taking on a yellow tinge.

October is the “party and confetti” part of autumn, bright and brilliant, colors raining down around us, an air of celebration in the air.

That part of autumn is gone. The lingering goblins on porch posts annoy rather than frighten, the improvised ghosts just limp, tattered, graying sheets strung on bare limbs. Garbage cans on the curb are topped with jack-o-lanterns whose faces have withered into quizzical stares, mouths puckered inward like old men who can’t find their dentures.

We’re in the final stage of autumn, the cozy stage of beef stew and knitted socks (even though it’s been balmy recently). This is the crunchy time of dead leaves and dried husks, softly lit by beeswax candles and fire glow, meditative as we approach Thanksgiving, before a new celebration ignites and a different festival begins. I used to hate November upon a time, but in middle age I’ve grown to appreciate it very much.

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We had a warm, dry weekend here in Southwestern Ohio. And everywhere we went, there were people out in their yards with ladders and strings of lights. Puddles of plastic on the grass indicate where whimsical characters wait to be inflated and illuminated. Icicle lights fringe the gutters on houses and garages, easy to see even though they’re unlit and it’s daytime. On some of the pear trees that line certain subdivision streets near my mother’s house, glinting bits of glass among the bare branches show that it won’t be long until magical, twinkling tunnels transform the even strolls of neighbors and their pooches.

And already, every so often, there’s a home already bright in the autumn dusk with festoons of hard candy colors.

I love fall, and I really don’t like to see it rushed. I prefer pumpkins and Indian corn to remain on doors and mailboxes until Thanksgiving, a holiday wreathed with rust-colored leaves and acorns. But I appreciate the wisdom of taking advantage of great weather to get the decorations up and ready. It’s only a matter of days now, after all.

The Christmas season is coming.

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One of the reasons I’ve hardly blogged the past several months was a bad patch in September when my mother was ill and in the hospital for 10 nights. It started with what we thought was either food poisoning or the stomach flu. (A lot of people seemed to be having food-related problems because of the power outages during the recent windstorm, and there was also a nasty stomach bug going around at the time.) Mom was up about one a.m. Sunday vomiting, and I knew from personal experience she probably faced a bad night. What I didn’t anticipate was how many bad nights still lay ahead.

On Monday DIamondqueen had Mom taken to the emergency room by ambulance. They looked her over, gave her some anti-nausea and pain medication, and sent her home. In addition to going to work, I’d scheduled both a dentist appointment and an eye appointment that day, so I didn’t get home until after eight. There was no message from Mom, so I hoped that meant she was asleep and stabilized. I didn’t want to risk waking her up, so I sent her an e-mail asking her to reply or phone me next morning so I’d know she was okay.

When I hadn’t heard anything at home or at work, I called her. My heart nearly stopped when I heard how bad she sounded. I phoned for a doctor’s appointment, left work, and took Mom to the doctor by noon. To make a long story short, she was admitted to the hospital that afternoon.

She continued to vomit round-the-clock until the next evening, when they finally succeeded in getting a gastric tube inserted through her nose and down her throat. (It’s probably just as well I wasn’t there to witness that ordeal, and the tube was miserable to have in, but at least the vomiting ceased.) It was still a couple of days before we had the complete picture: She had a bowel obstruction caused by a portion of a ventral hernia that had been repaired twice before. We went into the weekend not sure what would happen — the surgeon had simply popped the obstruction back into place but it wasn’t clear if Mom would need surgery to decisively correct the condition — and clinging to some optimism that we’d still get Mom home for her birthday on Tuesday. However, around 9 Sunday morning Mom called to say they’d be operating in an hour. The silver lining was the hernia correction was the least invasive possible, and Mom didn’t suffer with the vicious nausea reactions to her anesthetic as she had with two previous hernia surgeries.

She didn’t make it out of the hospital for her birthday. However, I stopped to see her that morning on the way to work, vastly encouraged at the improvement. And after work, Diamondqueen and the Hooligans met me at the hospital with flowers and a balloon for a celebration in Mom’s room. We arrived just moments after a nurse had removed the gastric tube — the best birthday gift Mom could possibly want, although she was thrilled with her visit, too, including the pictures S. and J.Hooligan had drawn for her.

Mom finally came home late Friday afternoon, after a couple of days of being reintroduced slowly to regular food and getting “therapy” to help her get around again. (She didn’t feel she really needed the latter, but it was something to do to help the day pass.) The following weekend we had her delayed birthday celebration, and the following week Mom and I drove up to the Amish area in Holmes County, Ohio, for a few days of gorgeous fall foliage and all the usual delights we anticipate. All through Mom’s hospitalization we knew the trip, Mom’s only “vacation” all year, was in jeopardy; but something made me cling to hope and postpone canceling, even if it meant we’d wind up eating the cost of the nights we’d booked. Even Diamondqueen agreed with taking that chance, and it did pay off. Although we set forth intending to keep it all as low-key as possible, and with the option of simply going home on Day 3 instead of staying over a another night, it was all fine. Mom paced herself, but she did all her quilt shop-hopping, and she was able to enjoy her favorite meals.

However, I think we were all shaken by the whole hospital episode. Mom was to turn 76 on her birthday. There were moments when I wondered if this was it, if something was direly wrong and she’d never get back home; or if her body would simply tire out from the trauma. Mom seemed to emerge from the ordeal more cautious and vulnerable, too. It’s one thing to suffer through a surgery that was planned for; however, spending more time in a hospital than you ever have in your life for something unexpected that at first couldn’t even be identified can’t help but alter your perspective as you pass your mid-70s.

As if Mom’s situation hadn’t been bad enough, we had an even bigger shock. I’d stayed with Mom over that first Sunday night she was ill. Monday morning I’d spoken to Diamondqueen first thing, then hopped in the shower. I’d heard the phone ring and assumed my sister had phoned back about something. I nearly fainted when I played back a message from my younger brother (two years younger than me) calling from the CCU saying he’d had a heart attack and had had angioplasty the night before. Those weeks had a surreal, dark, world-coming-to-an-end quality; and I’ve never shaken the feeling of a giant tote board hovering in the air before me, with every day, hour, minute, second counting down in a blur — for my family, for me, for the world. (Oh yeah, the economy began it’s critical nosedive that week in September as well.)

Today we all gathered at Mom’s for Thanksgiving, as always: me, Diamondqueen and That Poor Man, the Hooligans, and my brother, looking much trimmer than he had the last time I saw him before his heart attack. We had a huge feast with all Mom’s beloved specialties; and she’d done every bit of it herself. She’d cooked and cleaned for days, and seemed hellbent on not getting assistance with anything, not even asking me to help her get the big bird out of the roasting pan (she announced proudly after the turkey was on the platter that she’d managed it all by herself). She’d had a couple of post-operative weeks when she couldn’t lift more than five pounds, and still had some limitations as November came. She’d gone days without solid food in the hospital, fed only through tubes. She lain there and thought about the coming holidays and wondered if she’d be able to cook at all, especially the big Thanksgiving meal.

She did it. It was a marathon she had to run and win, and she triumphed. To add to the sweetness of her victory, her own meal tasted better to her than it often does, from the turkey and trimmings to the pumpkin pie.

We both know there’ll come a day, even if she eases into it a little year by year. But THIS year she was still able to do it all herself. What I’m most grateful for this Thanksgiving is that there was a Thanksgiving, as I know it; complete with Mom’s cooking and Mom’s loving presence, my sister and her family, my survivor brother, my brother by phone from St. Louis, and even the phone calls from my aggravating father (who is also 76, has advanced cirrhosis of the liver, and who I wasn’t sure would still be here when I tried to look forward ahead from last Thanksgiving). There are numerous other blessings, of course (I survived a recent round of lay-offs at work; a year ago this coming Monday I lost my previous job), but this year it was enough for me that we, on this one day, are all still here.

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It’s always been hard for me to choose which I like better — the Thanksgiving meal or the leftovers. We always eat around noon, so there’s plenty of time for another sidle up to the trough. The stuffing, sweet potatoes, even the turkey seem to taste better for having sat in the refrigerator for several hours, their flavors intensifying. On Friday, when everyone else seems to have had their fill of the bird and its trimmings, I’m still happily dishing up smaller and smaller versions of the original meal and feasting myself into a sated coma.

When I was a kid, we didn’t seem to have as many leftover side dishes. Possibly that was because Mom kept the menu much simpler. My father wouldn’t have been enthusiastic about fancy casseroles and experiments with sausage stuffing. He wanted things to taste the way he thought they should taste, and he wanted his gravy dark (thanks to Kitchen Bouquet).  

What I remember best about leftovers are the turkey sandwiches. I was raised Catholic, and before Vatican II, we were still required to abstain from meat on Fridays. This meant no turkey at all on the day after Thanksgiving. My mother told us how, when she and Dad were first married, they’d wait up until midnight on Friday so they could dig in to the turkey.

By the time I was 11, rules had loosened; and I think of those Friday lunches when Mom would put out the platter of cold, sliced white meat, a loaf of fresh white bread, and a jar of Miracle Whip. There wasn’t a lot of food I truly loved at that age, and we didn’t often have the opportunity to feast with abandon. With that leftover turkey, though, I could have all the sandwiches I wanted. 

I probably wouldn’t like them as much now. I’ve lost my taste for commericial white bread. Remembering those sandwiches as I enjoyed them then, though, makes my mouth water. There was the flavor of the turkey heightened by the tang of the Miracle Whip and contrasted with the sponginess of the bread.

I treasured those post-Thanksgiving meals of turkey sandwiches. Maybe the atmosphere heightened their impact as well. Without the trappings and tensions of the official, more formal Thanksgiving meal, spirits were as bright and airy as that white bread. There were plenty of tensions at holiday meals, but I don’t remember tensions while we made and consumed turkey sandwiches. Thanksgiving just wouldn’t have been the same without them.

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 Every Baby Boomer has their story of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy: where they were and what they were doing when they heard the news.

I’m a Boomer as well, so of course I must share my story:

November 22 fell on the Friday before Thanksgiving that year. In grade school we had to sell turkey raffle tickets all through October. Actually, they weren’t tickets; we were given cardstock sheets with numbered lines printed on both sides in two columns. When people bought chances, they paid so much per line and wrote their names and contact information in the numbered spaces. At the end of the selling period, we’d turn in our sheets and our money.

I never really knew how that worked. Did someone fill out tickets from our sheets? Often someone would buy several chances, and instead of repeating their information, they would simply “X” through all the blank lines they were entitled to. I remember the thrill of seeing relatives do this, little dollar signs dancing in my head. Hitting up family at First Communion parties was an October ritual (First Communions were an autumn ceremony then). Sympathetic relatives with cash to spare might X out an entire column of numbered lines.

That Friday before Thanksgiving 1963, the students were being treated to their own festival, starting at lunch time. I was in third grade, and there hadn’t been a kids’ turkey festival the year before, my first at St. Cecilia’s. There was an adult festival over the weekend, with games of chance and the drawing of names for the turkeys, but there was nothing there to interest a child.

One of my favorite lunches at St. Cecilia’s was their fish sandwich on Fridays. Somehow, Mom gave me extra money so I could have two sandwiches that day, which just added to the celebratory spirit. After lunch, we roamed the tables set against the walls of the cafeteria, playing fish pond and ring toss.

I was especially pleased because of a prize I won: a small white plastic mouse with a rubber band mechanism underneath. I could pull the elastic string, set the mouse down, and it would go scurrying. I loved it, and I couldn’t wait to show it to Mom as soon as I got home (even though she hated mice).

I don’t know where my first-grader brother was that day; I have a faint memory of seeing him at the festival, but he probably was running with his own crowd. We could leave whenever we’d had enough of the games (i.e., spent all our money), which was another bonus, so it was early afternoon when I left school. I forget now whether I walked home alone or with my school friends. All I remember is that it was a pleasant autumn afternoon and I was happy.

As I approached our house, my mother came out onto the porch holding my three-year-old brother. I ran to tell her about the festival, but she stopped me cold with the words, “President Kennedy got shot down in Texas.”

This is how a child’s mind works (okay, a child with an unusual imagination): I had a sudden mental image of JFK in a cowboy hat, hands hovering above his holster, ready for a showdown. I was rather indignant, thinking, “Why would the President of the United States get into a gunfight?”

Mom’s stricken face brought me to reality, and we went into the living room where the television was showing the empty banquet room where Kennedy was supposed to have spoken that afternoon. Soon we saw Walter Cronkite make his emotional announcement that the President was dead.

My mother broke down. “That poor woman with those babies!” she wept, cradling my brother. I was in shock. The fact that someone had shot the President as he rode down the street was more surreal to me than my momentary fantasy of JFK failing to outdraw an hombre. Assassination was something we read about in our history books, not something we lived. It was unthinkable that we were now participants in the same tragic drama that the people in Lincoln’s time had experienced when he was shot. I couldn’t get my mind around it.

I wandered up the street to my friend Roseanne’s house. It was common to say “Did you hear…” even when you knew the other person had already heard. “Did you hear about Kennedy?” we asked each other, incredulous.

Roseanne’s mother, with her own baby on her hip, was crying as well. She pulled out a prayer book and found a prayer especially for an assassinated President. As she read it out loud, her voice broke. Later, in the kitchen, she declared, “This is exactly when the Russians could attack us, when we don’t have a leader.” Everyone was always on edge waiting for the Russians to attack. It made sense that this might be as good a time as any.

Roseanne and I wandered off on a walk. We sat at the end of a downhill driveway that ended in a kind of drop-off. It was a mild day. The last leaves were drifting from the branches overhead. We talked about how strange it was, to be living the kind of history we’d only studied in books. We talked with some shame, and a little regret, of a pattycake-type playground chant (Went to Washington in a canoe, went to the White House and saw you-know-who. We–saw–KENNEDY!) and how we couldn’t say that chant anymore.

Wall-to-wall, 24/7 news coverage was a new experience. There was saturated coverage for NASA liftoffs and the like, but that took up a limited part of the day. That November weekend saw a total cessation of anything not related to the assassination. Most radio stations ceased to play popular music; only somber, classical music could be found on the dial. (To this day I associate “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring” with sitting at the kitchen table the evening of Kennedy’s death.)

It was a long, somber weekend. On Saturday evening there was a memorial Mass at church, which we attended. The parish was debating whether to cancel the adults’ turkey festival out of respect. For some reason, it went on. I forget whether we went on Saturday or Sunday, but I do remember the empty feeling in the school gym, folks milling around with no heart for the proceedings, the rackety sound of the wheels of fortune echoing into the high ceiling.

Jack Ruby shot Oswald shortly after we returned home from Sunday Mass, although we missed seeing it live. We’d been watching a station that wasn’t covering Oswald’s transfer, and suddenly they broke in with a bulletin. It truly seemed the world had gone insane. It was a frightening, confusing spectacle, all the more so because the adults didn’t have any answers, either, and seemed as shaken as the children.

By Monday, life must have been edging back toward normalcy, because I remember watching part of Kennedy’s funeral on the small, snowy black-and-white television at the bowling alley, where my mother was participating in her weekly Mother’s Club league. School had been cancelled for the day and my father was off work from his municipal job. The television was set up behind the counter where bowlers paid for their games and picked out their shoes. I stood with my arms and chin on the glass counter. I couldn’t hear what the announcer was saying, so I just stared at the screen, which was such a fuzzy mix of translucent gray that everyone looked like ghosts.

We’d watched the procession over the weekend as JFK’s caisson was drawn through the streets of Washington. I found the riderless horse with those backward boots in the stirrups positively haunting. My mother pointed out that the rhythmic drumroll was the beat to “Hail to the Chief.”

It was typical of the time that there was immediate talk of sainthood for John F. Kennedy, an American martyr. We schoolchildren knew nothing of his lifestyle, his peccadilloes, the many reasons the Church should not have honored him as a saint, regardless of how he died. We Catholic schoolchildren knew only that the first Catholic President, the one over whom the nuns led us in celebration on election day two years before, had been murdered. And our lives would never be the same.

Note: The sheep box above is something I made from a craft store thin wooden box. The black sheep was actually pried from a napkin ring my mother gave me last fall; she knew I’d like it because the sheep figurine itself was so interesting. I was going to paint it white and antique it, then thought it would be interesting to have an “autumn” sheep box. The box itself is trimmed with antique-looking scrapbook paper, some orange and black crepe paper that used to be the honeycomb limbs of a Halloween witch I’ve had lying around about 20 years, and ribbon trim. The backdrop for the box is a wooden triptych I painted from a pattern about 9 years ago. Naturally, it also has sheep. I used the “poster edges” filter on my imaging software to give the picture more definition.

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